Looks at a website that details those caught up in 18th-century religious persecution
Like any family or local historian, I always look out for new resources, especially ones that can be found online. I declare a vested interest in what follows – I’m on the Council of the Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire and we’ve recently placed a database with hundreds of names of people from the North West (and especially Cheshire) on our website, as part of our commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Preston.
Local and family historians can search for ancestors who were forced to prove that they were not Roman Catholics, after the Jacobite supporters of the Old Pretender were crushed by government forces on 14-15 November 1715.
The names were taken from documents called Sacrament Certificates, which were needed to prove that anyone in a position of authority (such as clergymen or tax collectors) was a practising member of the Church of England. The Test Act of 1672 and subsequent laws tried to prevent nonconformists and Roman Catholics from holding public office. “Persons who bear any offices or places of trust”, under the Crown had to receive communion according to the rites of the Church of England. To prove that he had done so, each communicant had to return a certificate, signed by the officiating minister, one or more churchwardens of the parish, and two witnesses. They therefore include the names of many ordinary members of the community.
In Cheshire, the certificate might be returned to one of three major courts: the ‘Exchequer of Chester’, the Chester City quarter sessions, or the county quarter sessions. Those for the Exchequer are held in The National Archives, while the certificates for the city and county quarter sessions are at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies.
Each series begins in 1673. There were no restrictions on where someone had to take communion, so Cheshire men could be found among the records of other counties. One certificate, for example, relates to a man from Betley, Staffordshire, who was taking communion at Wistaston in Cheshire. in the said County, Shoemaker, doe severally make oath that they know the above named Thomas Powdrell now present here in Court and that they saw the said Thomas Powdrell receive the Sacrament of the Lords Supper at the day time and place above in that behalfe certified and that they saw the said Joseph Allen Peter Jackson and Ralph Ridgway subscribe the above written certificate and that all other matters and things therein mencioned and Expressed are true as they verily believe.”
Sacrament Certificates are widely available among the quarter sessions records of county record offices around the country. Anyone within 30 miles of London could return their certificate to a central court (King’s Bench or Chancery, the Exchequer and the Court of Common Pleas) but London-based communicants could also return certificates to the quarter sessions and there are large numbers of records at London Metropolitan Archives.
If you’ve not come across them before, they would be well worth investigating. Maybe your society could consider developing a similar project of its own?
Local and family historians can search for ancestors who were forced to prove they were not Roman Catholics
Main photo: The homepage of the Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire website; Inset: An example of a Sacrament Certificate